A prominent Chinese Christian lawyer has been formally charged with "subverting state power" by Chinese authorities, who held him incommunicado for six months, and may be forced to confess to crimes he didn't commit.
Jiang Tianyong, a respected human rights attorney who defended high-profile dissidents and practitioners of Falun Gong, the banned spiritual movement, disappeared in November 2016, according to the Hong Kong Free Press. At the time of his disappearance, Jiang was travelling to central China's Changsha city to provide advice and support to a fellow rights lawyer, Xie Yang.
In December, authorities confirmed they were holding Jiang on suspicion of inciting subversion, and on Monday - six months later - his father received an official charge notice.
The notice, dated May 31, said Jiang was being held on suspicion of subverting state power and was being held in Changsha City Number One Detention Center, according to Jiang's wife, Jin Bianling, who now lives in the United States.
Jin expressed concern over her husband's treatment in custody and believes authorities may be attempting to force him to confess. In March, state media released a number of interviews with Jiang where he appeared to confess to having helped fabricate accounts of Xie Yang being tortured.
"The crimes he (Jiang) is suspected of keep changing," Jin said. "It seems Jiang Tianyong has not admitted to any crimes, so they are going to keep torturing him until he confesses."
Last month, Jin expressed a belief that her husband may have been tortured until he was unable to stand: "I am very worried about him. I am worried about his health. I am worried he might be tortured while in jail," she said.
Additionally, Jiang's family and lawyers have been unable to speak to him. Chinese law states that anyone charged with subverting state power "shall be sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment of not more than five years." However, suspected "ringleaders" "shall be sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment of not less than five years," states the law.
According to The Guardian, 45-year-old Christian lawyer has been detained on "many occasions." He was first placed under arrest in 2009, when he addressed the legislature during a visit to the US. In the following years, he was repeatedly detained and beaten by police.
"The long-term harassment and threats consumed me. I even thought of suicide," Jin wrote, adding that police were also following his parents.
The Communist party has expressed discomfort with the growing influence of Christianity in the country, and hundreds of Christians, including pastors, lawyers, and activists, have been arrested for speaking out against the ongoing persecution. Today, many of them are still detained. Human rights attorneys who provide legal support to churches in China have also been subjected to police brutality and coerced into confessing on television that they have disturbed the peace, and jeopardized national security.
Jiang's treatment, according to Amnesty International China researcher Patrick Poon, "violates international human rights standards on protection of the rights to a legal counsel, and Jiang can no way be given a fair trial in such manner."
A panel of United Nations experts last year called on the Chinese government to investigate Jiang's situation -- even though Chinese security forces are involved in his detention.
"We fear that Jiang's disappearance may be directly linked to his advocacy and he may be at risk of torture," the UN panel said.
"We cannot rule out the possibility that Jiang may have been disappeared by the state agents because of his human rights work," the experts added. "Over the past years, we have received information that Jiang has been arrested, detained, and beaten by the police and state security officers on multiple occasions as a result of his human rights work."